Janelle Monáe is feeling herself these days. No longer wanting to be confined behind her alternate persona, the ArchAndroid, Monáe’s latest album Dirty Computer has let us know what she is genuinely thinking. It’s a powerful and personal statement of self-love and standing up to those who try to hinder it. And yet in all its accessibility, it’s still uniquely Monáe in the way it bends genres and shatters expectations.
Through her sharp black-and-white retro-futurist attire and channeling of the likes of James Brown and Chuck Berry, Monáe’s shows have always been a can’t-miss event. But with the mainstream stylings of Dirty Computer, Monáe has swan dived into the world of arena-pop spectacle. Flanked by four backup dancers, Monáe sang, rapped, and danced her way into the crowd's heart. In addition to the heavily-choreographed songs, there were thrones, water guns, giant video screens, guitar solos, Michael Jackson-reminiscent dance moves, a Purple Rain call-out at the end of “PrimeTime,” and yes, even the now-famous vagina pants. But if you were hoping for older cuts, you didn’t get much beyond “Tightrope,” “Cold War,” and “Electric Lady.” This show was all about Dirty Computer.
Despite all the visual spectacle packed into the show, the message of inclusivity and love was still what mattered most to Monáe. During “Juice,” she six audience members joined her on stage to show off their dance moves, including a hearing-impaired woman who received the loudest round of applause (or waving, as it’s done in ASL). Driving home the point that the country still has a long way to go, scenes of protests for Trayvon Martin and riots flashed across the giant video screens during “So Afraid” and show closer (and album closer) “Americans” was Monáe at her Prince-like best while the words rang more somber: “Until black people can come home from a police stop without being shot in the head, This is not my America.” In honoring music’s past and charting a path towards its future, Monáe’s live show has reached new heights, and her message is as impactful as it’s ever been. In her own words, she’s a “free-ass motherfucker.”
Dirty Computer is available now through Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy Records/Atlantic Records.
Opening for Janelle Monáe was Atlanta-based St. Beauty, comprising of Alex Belle and Isis Valentino. Their debut EP Running to the Sun is available now through Wondaland Arts Society/Empire.